‘Gorilla’ Warfare

With the release of War of the Planet of the Apes just behind us, it feels redundant to have yet another King Kong film appear in our Redbox distributors and movie rental stores so soon. However, throughout the two hours of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be glad you picked it up.

For a film with such a large following, I feel as though I should air the dirty laundry of this one right off the bat. First, the costuming. Viewers have an opening scene circa-1930’s, where we see the ending of an air battle in World War II; this opener only includes two characters, plus Kong, so we don’t see any major time period issues in that moment. Fast forward through the timeline that immediately follows, and we are taken to a government building in 1973–but you wouldn’t have known without the date clearly shown on the screen. While the women are clearly dressed in bright patterns and bell bottoms, the men look like time travelers…from 2017. Tom Hiddleston, our main character, looks like an under-dressed James Bond meets Jurassic Park, and his look never changes. Unfortunately, this drew attention away from the time period, therefore creating a wrongful combination of time periods in the coming sequels to the film.

Next, it is only fair to evaluate the second most pressing problem with the film–its lack of gender diversity. Aside from hopeful extras in the background scenes early in the movie, the only woman that we come to know is Brie Larson’s character, Mason–an anti-war photographer. The personality that Mason has is impeccable; held to a high personal standard of sarcasm, rebellion, and compassion, you want her to be the center of attention among men with battle scars and a need to blood. Of course, just like most action movies released before DC’s Wonder Woman, our sole female character is practically one-dimensional–something we should have known by Larson’s near absence from all Skull Island marketing. Shocker. Throughout the duration, Larson has what feels like ten lines and one touching moment with Kong, but nothing to write home about. She finds a friendship in Tom Hiddleston rather than a romance, which was pleasing to see, but as a viewer and a reviewer, I am pleading with the screenwriter to provide more time on-screen for such an essential character to the film. One final note on this one: please stop allowing the military characters to mansplain war ideals to Mason.

“The world is bigger than this.” – Mason (Brie Larson)

‘”Bitch, please.” – Samuel L. Jackson

Y I K E S.

Let’s touch on those special effects next; at some points, they are so visually stimulating that they feel, for lack of a better word, fake. Recall the effects in Mad Max: Fury Road, which were beautiful to look at–so much so, in fact, that they were literally unreal. This is both a blessing and a curse for Skull Island; it is fascinating to watch, but it almost takes away from the appeal to the characters. There is one scene in particular that looks more like a painting than a movie scene, and it involves Tom Hiddleston and some extraterrestrial-looking, military-grade toxic gas. While the fan girl in me drooled a little, the reviewer was confused. With special effects that take away from the action, it almost feels like lack of confidence in film marketing. Filmmakers should not have to create marketing strategies within the movie to get by, and simple yet engaging effects will always be better. Less is more in action films. On a higher note, the movie monsters on the island and the stereotypical action elements (explosions, specifically) were beautifully done, and I was amazed by how realistic Kong looked, in and out of action-filled scenes.

Since the film’s characterization was about as basic as an island expedition action movie gets, I’m going to skip it entirely in this review and speak about something far more fascinating film connections, most of which were told to me throughout. For those of you who know of Heart of Darkness, or as most of us know it, Apocalypse Now, you’ll know that the author’s name is Joseph Conrad; in Skull Island, we find a nod to this author in Tom Hiddleston’s character, Captain James Conrad. Super rad. The most interesting piece of information that the film provides, however, is found at the end credits scene.

(Note to Legendary: If you want an end credits scene, make the credits fewer than ten minutes long. That was ridiculous.) 

In the end credit scene, we see James Conrad and Mason sitting in a room with those super cool interrogation mirror-windows, and they are later joined by their previous companion from the island expedition. This companion, Houston Brooks (whose actor counterpart is most commonly recognized as Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton), informs the pair of the other dangerous that lurk beyond the bounds of human existence, going as far as saying, “This world was never ours.” This scene teases a new Kong v. Godzilla film, which would be the third installment of Legendary’s MonsterVerse; this new world-building began with 2014’s Godzilla, and will be forced to compete in the future with Universal’s Dark Universe, which began with the 2017 film The Mummy, featuring our favorite scientologist, Tom Cruise. (I chose not to review the film, because I was utterly disappointed in its execution.)

As an early set-up for a new world to be build, I believe that Kong, for the most part, did its job. In future films, I hope the writers and director choose to create more storyline and dimension for characters that will become part of a long-running franchise; stop monkeying around, and please write for the audience, not the box office.

Grade: B

 

Despicable…Maybe?

Do spoilers really matter on this one? Either way, you’ve been warned.

despicable, (adjective); 1. deserving to be despised

Walking into the dark theater for this one, I wasn’t expecting more than another Minion-ridden, animated sequel. While I was correct, I was also (pleasantly?) surprised with a little something for the whole family–but mostly, just for mom.

Let me set the scene for you: a washed-up child star turned super-villain steals the world’s largest diamond, with none other than the King of Pop’s “Bad” playing at the heist music in the background. A simple moonwalk was all it took for the moms in the theater to start cackling from nostalgia…and the kids to be confused. I believe that we are all too familiar with hidden adult humor within children’s movies today (see Rango), but Despicable didn’t even bother to keep it a secret in this installment. While this certainly makes the film a little less dreadful for the 40-something’s in the room, it doesn’t keep the focus of the audience that it is marketed to–kids, specifically those who were fans of the first two chapters in the (seemingly) never-ending movie series.

This review wouldn’t even be worth reading if I didn’t mention the Minions, would it? For lovers of the walking Twinkies, you’re in luck. The entire movie, as always, is marketed heavily upon them, even giving the group two full length musical numbers, one performed during a prison escape. Viewers are taught to be weary of them in the beginning, after a strike of Gru’s newfound good-guy attitude causes them to quit and leave their old life “for good”, but expectantly, doesn’t last long. In fact, in the ending scene, the Minions are reunited with Gru and his family, reassuring you that they will most definitely be making a film-length appearance in the next installment. The entire Minion spotlight feels incredibly unnecessary, considering the last movie was literally their own spinoff prequel for the franchise–a serious detriment to the third film. If you’re like me, I’m happy to tell you that there is plenty of other continuing storylines that you will be much more likely to appreciate throughout.

Take, for example, pure Agnes’s love for ~unicorns~. Not only do the children never seem to age in this timeline, but they also have the same passions that they’ve had since the very beginning of the franchise. This time around, the obsession becomes so extreme that she embarks on an adventure into the Crooked Forest on a quest to find a real-life unicorn, accompanied by none other than her sister Edith. A few movie hours and a one-horned goat later, and you’ll be feeling the love along with the characters. While remembrance is nice, especially for the biggest of fans, the truest standout moment of the film is watching Lucy, Gru’s newlywed wife, struggle with understanding what it takes to be the mother of three girls who don’t know her well, or trust her much at all. While this is, again, particularly relatable to the parents in the room, even kids will be rooting Lucy on in the scenes where this dilemma appears, and it even gives the film some depth.

As for how it adds up to the last two (or three, if you include the Twinkie prequel), don’t get your hopes too high. While, as stated above, the animated movie holds some of the original’s values, it is clear that marketing and the media have gotten to the source of this story, making it feel lackluster comparatively. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing, though; in just its first weekend at the box office, it has grossed roughly $18.4 million, hoping to catch up to its predecessor, which has become the sixth highest grossing animated movie in the box office (Rotten Tomatoes). The movie certainly won the weekend, but there seems to be no guarantee that it will win the affection of its young viewers.

Overall, I definitely wouldn’t say that this one lives up to its despicable name, but I also wouldn’t expect any kids I know to absolutely fall in love with it. Between the nostalgia of the 70’s and 80’s looming in the undertones of the main villainous character, and the ‘to be or not to be’ a mother secondary plotline, there’s no denying that this installment wasn’t written with the children, or the franchise’s target audience, entirely in mind. Sorry, Minions, but the parents win this one.

Grade: B-

Everything, Everything By the Books

There’s probably spoilers down below. Don’t take any chances.

Another late review, I know–make sure you check this out if you were planning on renting this one from the local Redbox (the DVD hits stores on August 17th).

I love cliches; so much so, in fact, that I am practically a walking cliche. However, Everything, Everything really takes the cake in this competition.

Book-to-movie adaptations typically have a very fine line between artistic changes from the pages and complete overhaul of story lines–the film in question, albeit, took absolutely no risks. I dig a good adaptation, don’t get me wrong–I read this novel before the film hit theaters, and to be honest, that may be why I don’t have the best things to say.

Everything, Everything–both the film and the novel– was marketed towards fans of John Green’s latest novel/film adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars, and justifiably so. Both stories have similar plots: boy meets girl, girl is sick, death scare, break-up, rekindling of romance, plot twist, the end. The true differences only lie in two places, being Augustus Waters’s death and the fact that Maddy isn’t actually sick. Called a ‘do-not-miss’ for John Green readers, the book gained incredible amounts of attention, spending over eight months on the New York Times Bestsellers List. While fans will find the nostalgia within the film itself entertaining, the rest of the movie is really a bust in terms of originality, and here’s why.

While the romance is the blockbuster issue within the film, the internal plot of “I’m sick and I can’t go outside otherwise I will die” remarkably resembles that of the 2001 B-movie Bubble Boy, a movie about a boy who goes outside to chase after the girl he loves when he realizes she is getting married. In fact…these films are exactly the same in their dynamic, and while Bubble Boy was not impressive in its acting, it was praised for its originality on the silver screen. Everything, Everything is wrong in the newer ‘adaptation’, simply because the storyline truly had nowhere to go. Why? The book had no more pages, and the screenwriter clearly wasn’t going to create their own.

After reading the novel, I had decently high expectations for the screenplay–there are several buried plotlines throughout the story that I believe should have seen the light of day, including her father’s past and the reasoning as to why she writes spoiler book reviews. The “could have” moments I have chosen aside, the far-too-direct book adaptation was boring for those who have read the novel, and predictable even for those who hadn’t. While sitting in the theater, murmurs were heard, such as “Her mom lied, didn’t she?” or “She isn’t even sick.”, and this was before the ‘big reveal’ was even mentioned. I’m sure that somewhere in the world, someone was shocked, but that person was not me, or anyone else at the 4:30 showing on that particular Saturday in The Village at Meridian.

There are many factors as to why I believed the film was such a flop; maybe there wasn’t enough notable romance quotes, or perhaps my expectations were too high before entering the theater, but I believe that while Everything, Everything was certainly by the books, it will not be one for the books.

Grade: C+

A Night Under the (Hollywood) Stars

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (Just so you know.)

Don’t get me wrong; I know that I am about eight hundred months late to the La La Land party, and for that, I apologize. However, after watching the movie three times over the course of six days, I believe I am fully prepared to give you a thorough review on everything from character to costuming. *insert entrance music here*

Before I even go straight into the factors that made the movie great, I want to give a brief synopsis:

  1. Aspiring actress goes to several auditions, inevitably fails.
  2. Aspiring jazz musician plays jazz music in a club where Christmas (??) music is the only type of music that is allowed, is promptly fired.
  3. Actress and musician meet in traffic, actress flips off musician, beginning of love story.
  4. Lots of other plot lines happen, and by the end, actress has a successful audition and jazz musician opens a jazz club.

Let’s be honest: historically, movie musicals are well-hyped on social media but fail about 77% of the time when they hit mainstream theaters (made-up statistic, real-life results). Take, for example, Jem and the Holograms, the most recent flop. The film had such a horrid crash landing, in fact, that it was pulled from the public only one month after its initial release date. This nickel of a nostalgic “masterpiece” is a prime example of reasoning to NOT release a movie musical in this day in age. However, following in the footsteps of Rent, Chicago, and The Sound of Music, director Damien Chazelle takes a risk and hits the ground running.

Despite the failure of its predecessors, La La Land became, unarguably, the most successful film of the 2017 awards season, breaking the previously held Golden Globes record and meeting the record for most Academy Awards for a single film. Chazelle can credit these wins to an incredible score and a ridiculously likable cast–especially in the interviews. With chemistry (even friendly) on screen and off, we all knew even before the premiere that La La Land was going to be a film to watch out for. We were right. (Also, ICYMI, here’s the best interview, because Vanity Fair always does it right: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/09/la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone-damien-chazelle-interview).

The most redeeming factor of the entire film, however, is the remarkable ending. Sorry, you hopeless romantics out there–the leads do not live happily ever after, the end. In fact, our lovely aspiring-now-famous actress is married and has a child with another man, and only ever lays eyes upon our jazz club owner once she accidentally steps foot in his club, where a montage of their relationship plays with a smooth jazz score riding through the background. They smile at each other, and then the credits roll. Incredible.

Long story short, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling will steal your hearts, stomp on them, and the tears left over will ruin the makeup that you paid good money for. Even knowing this from experience, I still highly recommend a watch. Seriously.

Grade: A